August 28, 2016
We’ve been in the Gospel of Mark two weeks shy of a year now. We’re about halfway done – in fact, we reach a major turning point in the book in chapter 8. We know well by now Mark has written his gospel to prove Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Here’s the question – does anyone in the narrative get it? Better question – do we get it? You see, from the beginning, Jesus has been doing some amazing things. Now, if you’ve been in church for any period of time, you know a lot of these stories – you’ve heard them since you were a little kid in Sunday School. The question is, do you get it? What are you doing with the evidence?
You see, I have some good news and bad news. The good news is, you’ve heard the stories – you’ve been presented with the rock solid evidence. The bad news is, you’ll be held responsible for what you know. And the more you know, the higher the responsibility – even liability. I’ll come back to that. But Jesus has been proving conclusively He is the Christ – the Son of God. He has been doing those amazing things at this point in His ministry for over two years now.
For example, He’s exorcised demons all over the place in spectacular fashion. Some with a mere word of command while they were groveling at His feet. Others, He wasn’t even present – He just said it was so – and it was it was so. With another guy, there was a legion of demons – perhaps thousands – and He drove them into a heard of pigs. Amazing? Spectacular? Legend? You must decide. What have you done with the evidence?
Then of course, He healed people of every imaginable disease – Peter’s mother-in-law who had a fever, a leper, a paralyzed man, another with a withered or useless hand, a woman with a bleeding issue. The lame were walking, the deaf for were hearing, the mute were speaking. He even raised the dead. Today, we’ll find He restores sight. All of this is in fulfillment of Isaiah 35 – that when God came, He will save you, the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped, the lame will leap like a deer and the tongue of the mute will shout for joy. Jesus did all that, so what will you do with the evidence?
There’s also all the nature miracles – His power over nature, even elements – molecular structure, if you will. He could calm a storm with a voice of command. He could walk on water. He could multiply bread and fish and feed thousands. Talk about a fish fry. Amazing? Spectacular? Legend? Which is it, what will you do with the evidence?
You see, we’ll see some different responses to the evidence today. Jesus has been doing ministry – teaching and healing – throughout Galilee and beyond. His popularity has risen to unprecedented heights. But so has the opposition. There were different ways to respond to Him – then, and now.
We’ve seen the crowds come to Him in great numbers, of course, most seeking healing. But also listening to His amazing teaching – we’ve never heard anything like this before. Others, however, heard His teaching, saw His miracles, or at least the results of His miracles, and rejected Him. The scribes, the Pharisees, the Herodians, eventually the Sadducees. It’s amazing – the religious and political establishment opposed Him most vehemently. Those two institutions will eventually come together to put Him to death – all according to divine plan. The question for you is – what will you do? Accept, or reject?
Let’s read the text today. It’s a long one, and upon first reading, will seem somewhat disjointed. But trust me – it goes together – and might just be what you need to hear. Mark 8:11-26.
Jesus has just finished an extended period of ministry in non-Jewish territory – among Gentiles. Here’s a map where I’ve circles some of the places we’ve been talking about. Several weeks, if not months, have passed. During that time, He healed the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter; He healed a deaf and mute man in Decapolis – likely a Gentile; He multiplied bread and fish to feed a large Gentile crowd – who, by the way, had been with Him for three days – listening to His teaching, observing His miracles. As a result, they glorified the God of Israel.
Now, He boards a boat and travels from the southeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee– and sails west to Dalmanutha. That’s not mentioned anywhere else – inside our outside Scripture. Matthew said it was in Magadan, which is on the western shore of the Sea, so we suppose they were either the same area or close by. The point is, they’re back in Jewish territory, so when they land, surprise, surprise, the Pharisees came out to greet Him. We’ve met them before, let me give a brief bio on these guys.
We’re not sure exactly where they came from – many think they were descendents of the Hasidim, whose name means “pious ones,” from the second century BC. By this time, the Pharisees were an religious association very much in the mainstream of Jewish life – and they made a point of being noticed and admired. The word Pharisee means “separated one,” and that’s exactly what they thought they were – separated from, and superior to common people. Not only did they separate themselves from dirty Gentiles, but also from common Jewish people, on whom they looked with disdain.
Admission to the group was strictly controlled – application was made followed by a probationary period in which the applicant had to prove his ability to follow the ritual law. That was important – following a set of man-made, ritual rules which made them feel superior. This set of rules eventually came to be written over the centuries as commentaries on the law of Moses – the Mishna, the Gemara, the Talmud. They were known collectively as “the tradition of the elders.” These teachings were largely external, meaningless observances. They were a self-righteous community; legalistic isolationists who had no regard for anyone outside their group. They thought themselves super-spiritual, and were sure God looked upon them very approvingly because of their made-up brand of holiness.
So for obvious reasons, these guys opposed Jesus of Nazareth. He wasn’t one of their number. In fact, He was of the common people – not only a carpenter from Galilee, but from Nazareth. Their minds were made up from the beginning – and so they closed their eyes to the evidence. Which brings us to our first point – the continued opposition of the Pharisees. They came out – that’s an interesting word – it often speaks of marching out in military formation. They marched out, going to war against Jesus. They began to argue – don’t miss that – argue with Jesus. Their minds were made up – they weren’t interested in evidence. You can’t be the Christ. You can’t be the Son of God. Not unlike many today – maybe even some of you – don’t confuse me with the facts.
You remember we first met the Pharisees back in Mark 2. Jesus was eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners, and these guys got irritated. Later in that chapter, His disciples were picking grain on the Sabbath, and these guys got irritated. Then, in chapter 3, Jesus healed the man with a withered hand in a synagogue on the Sabbath – so they Pharisees left that day and began to conspire with the Herodians to destroy Jesus – to kill Him. Their minds were made up. Amazing, given they had just seen Him restore a man’s hand. Some people, regardless of the evidence, will shut their eyes to truth. They don’t like that Jesus infringes on their beliefs or their way of life. His teaching, His holiness, always gets in the way of many who want to live how they want to live.
We saw them again at the end of chapter 3 when they accused Jesus of performing miracles by the power of Beelzebul – that’s Satan. Which meant, acknowledged His miracles – you couldn’t deny the evidence – so they just denied the power Jesus had to do the miraculous.
Well, we saw them again at the beginning of chapter 7 when a delegation of scribes and Pharisees came from Jerusalem to attack and discredit Jesus. He put them in their place – accusing them of violating the Law of God with their traditions. That didn’t set well. Again, people don’t like it when the teaching of Jesus comes into conflict with their way of life.
So, despite the overwhelming evidence, they oppose Him. This time, when He returns to Galilee, they’re waiting to attack Him. They want to argue, discredit Him. They say, show us a sign from heaven – the implication is, give us a divine sign, then we’ll believe. Of course, Mark points out they were only testing Him. That word doesn’t mean, testing for the purpose of approval. They wanted Him to fail. They were sure He would.
So, give us a sign from heaven. Think about that – what do you think He was doing for the first eight chapters of the book? He healed people of every disease; He drove out demons; calmed storms; raised the dead. He spoke with an authority/an understanding of the Scripture no one had ever heard before. He was fulfilling prophecies left and right, and they have the audacity to say, “Give us a sign, then we’ll believe.” He was the fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah 35 and 61, along with every other Old Testament prophecy, which said the Messiah would do exactly those things, but they ignored the miracles – they wanted a different kind of miracle; one that would fit their approval.
What did they mean, show us a sign? They wanted a sign from heaven. Let God’s voice come from heaven. Oh, that’s right, that already happened. They were asking for a sign of worldwide magnitude – do what Moses did when He split the Red Sea. Do what Joshua did – cause the sun to stand still. Do what Elijah did and make fire come down from heaven. The Pharisees wanted that kind of celestial sign to authenticate the message and person of Jesus. But the whole time they were gazing up at the sky, they were missing all the good things Jesus was doing all around them, proving His identity. What about you? By the way, when Jesus died, there were some celestial things that happened – the earth quaked, the sky turned dark – cosmic disturbances to proclaim, something significant just happened – but they didn’t believe any of that either.
So, what will it take for you to believe? Oh, you want to see it with your own eyes. There was a disciple named Thomas who once said that. Which is amazing, given he had seen so many of Jesus’ miracles already. Which tells me, seeing miracles with your own eyes won’t always do it. The Pharisees had seen His miracles – we don’t believe. Thomas had seen His miracles, but one day said, I won’t believe in His resurrection unless I see it with my own eyes. And Jesus appeared to Him. But don’t think by doing so, He’ll give you a sign from heaven – He’ll appear to you. No, He said to Thomas – you believe because you’ve seen? Thomas, the evidence is enough. Blessed are those who have not seen, yet believed. So what will it take for you to believe?
At this point, Jesus had had enough with the Pharisees. Their minds were made up – their eyes were blind to the truth. Seeing, they did not see, hearing, they did not hear. So Jesus, sighing deeply in His spirit, deeply troubled at their hardened, continued unbelief, basically says, that’s it. Why does this generation seek for a sign? Later, Paul will remind us, Jews are always wanting a sign. Gentiles – you just want intellectual wisdom – convince me. Truly I say to you – only the second time Jesus has said that in this book – it’s an oath formula, you can count on this. From here on, Jesus will use the phrase a dozen more times. He’s getting quite serious. Mark 8 marks turning point in the book. From now on, He’s pretty much done with the Pharisees. Oh, He’ll battle them again in Jerusalem, on His way to the cross. He’s pretty much done with the fickle crowds, too. Now, He’ll now focus on His disciples.
So He says, Truly I say to you, no sign will be given this generation. That’s not a bad translation – it certainly gets the point across. But actually, Jesus literally says, “If a sign will be given to this generation…” And stops. The implied completion of the oath is, forget about it. I’ll die first.
Notice then, leaving them. Not leaving Dalmanutha, leaving them. There is a sense of finality. He leaves them in their sin and rejection. It is true, God’s grace has no measure, but don’t presume on His grace. Because, it is clear in Scripture, His patience has its limits.
Which brings us quickly to our second point. We move from the opposition of the Pharisees to the continued confusion of the disciples. It’s a bit discouraging. They board the boat to travel north across the Sea to Bethsaida. Mark sets the scene – the disciples had forgotten to take bread – they only had one loaf between them – just a small piece of pita. At some point on the couple hour journey, Jesus gave them orders – Watch out! He says it again, Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod. Leaven or yeast is a rising agent that permeates and affects everything. It’s almost always used negatively in the Scripture.
In the parallel passage in Matthew, Jesus says, beware of the leaven of the Scribes and Pharisees, speaking of their false teaching. In Luke, it’s beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is their hypocrisy. Here, it’s beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod, likely speaking of their desire for signs, or their refusal to believe and opposition. Putting that all together, beware of the hypocritical, unbelieving false teaching and opposition of the Pharisees.
But, these brilliant disciples missed the point and began discussing the fact they didn’t have bread. Jesus, aware of their discussion, and began quizzing them with a series of questions – which frankly reveal His frustration with them. These questions are penetrating – I want you to hear Jesus asking you. He starts with five rhetorical questions:
- Why do you discuss that you have no bread?
- Do you not yet see or understand?
- Do you have a hardened [dull] heart?
- Having eyes, do you not see?
- Having ears, do you not hear?
These are strong questions. A couple of them are quotes from Isaiah 6 and were applied earlier to outsiders. Now, Jesus asks them, are you outsiders too? You’ve been with Me. You’ve seen the evidence. I’ve been saying it over and over, he who has eyes to see, let him see. He who has ears to hear, let him hear. Like the Pharisees, have you hardened your hearts to the evidence, too? That’s the question Jesus has for you today. How much evidence do you need before you believe? He keeps going – we looked at these verses last week:
- When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets of leftovers did you pick up? Twelve.
- When I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many baskets did you pick up? Seven.
Jesus is saying, having little or even no bread isn’t the issue. That’s not what I’m talking about. They should have known. But they were a bit slow. Be encouraged. He rounds it out in verse 21, Do you not yet understand? Don’t miss those words, not yet. He started in verse 17, do you not yet see? He finishes in verse 21, do you not yet understand? Not yet implies, they will. They’re slow, but they’ll get there – because, they’ve seen the evidence, and believe. They just don’t fully get it.
Listen carefully to me this morning. I recognize that’s where some of you may be. You’ve been reading. You’ve been listening. Your ears have heard. The evidence is mounting. You don’t get it, but you haven’t dismissed it. You know you’ve got to do something with it. My plea for you is to believe, and God will fully open your eyes to see.
You see, that brings us to our third point – the opening of blind eyes in verses 21-26. Upon first reading, this miracles seems misplaced. Or at least it’s challenging to make the connection. Not only that, there’s the nature of the miracles itself. It’s the first healing of a blind man given in Mark. Then, we have Jesus spitting again – only the second He does that. The first time was at the end of the last chapter with a deaf and mute man. Likely for the same reason He spit then – the guy couldn’t see, so Jesus used another sense – that of touch – so the man could participate in his healing. In fact, the healing of a deaf man and the healing of a blind man serve as bookends to this story of people having ears to hear, but can’t hear. Eyes to see, but can’t see. That’s interesting – that seems almost intentional.
Add to all of that, this is the only miracle in the Gospels that doesn’t happen immediately or completely at first – it happens in stages. That’s a bit strange. Then we remember the context. The Pharisees – they were deaf and blind, and would not believe. The disciples – also seemingly deaf and blind – but they were still there. At least they didn’t dismiss the evidence. They didn’t understand. They didn’t hear, fully, yet. They didn’t see clearly, yet. But they would.
Most believe, as do I, Jesus did this healing in this fashion, and Mark records it, like he did, as an acted out parable. This blind man was just like the disciples. Jesus touched him, and at first, he saw men, like trees, walking around. I’m not sure exactly what that looked like, but it’s clear, the man couldn’t see clearly. Just like the disciples couldn’t see clearly. Maybe just like you can’t see everything clearly, yet. But, Jesus continued His work, touched Him again, and the man began to see perfectly.
From this point on, this is exactly what Jesus did in His ministry with the disciples. He revealed Himself, over and over – teaching after teaching, parable after parable, miracle after miracle. And at this point, they could see, just not clearly. They could understand, just not fully. And He’ll spend the rest of Mark enlightening these dull disciples. And maybe that’s where you are. You haven’t dismissed it – but you haven’t fully committed yourself…yet. Would you believe?
You see, next week, we’re going to see the disciples take a major step forward. Jesus and the disciples travel further north – to Gentile territory again – to Caesarea Philippi. And there, Jesus asks them if they know who He is. It’s time to make a decision. And Peter answers for them all – You are the Christ. In Matthew, he says, You are the Son of God. Mission accomplished. Well, most of the way. They still don’t see clearly – they still don’t understand why Jesus came. Not yet. But they will.
Will you? Will you commit yourself to Jesus as the Christ – and believe – and begin to grow in your new faith? Because as we close, as I said at the beginning, there is good news and bad news from actually being here today. From perhaps being reared in a Christian home, in a Christian church. You’ve heard the truth, over and over. And you must decide. Will you believe.
You see, I suggested if you don’t, there’s a greater responsibility/liability for you. Why do I say that? Well, it has to do with where this miracle takes place – Bethsaida. In fact, Jesus did lots of miracles around Bethsaida – that’s where the feeding of the five thousand was. There could be no denying His power, and authority, His miracles, and His teaching. But many did. So in Matthew 11, Jesus said this,
21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.
22 “Nevertheless I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. [Bethsaida had seen the evidence, and most did not believe.] 23 “And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day.
24 “Nevertheless I say to you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you.”
You see, with knowledge comes responsibility and liability. The people of these Jewish cities, to include Bethsaida where this man had just received his sight, had seen Jesus’ miracles. But they did not repent and believe. And Jesus says, it will be more tolerable in the judgment for Gentile cities like Tyre and Sidon, like sexually immoral cities like Sodom and Gomorrah, than for you. Because, seeing all the evidence and not believing, is serious. You say, what, are you trying to scare me into believing? I would if I could. But no – those aren’t my words – they’re His. I’m simply communicating truth. So consider seriously all you’ve heard before dismissing the evidence.